As the battle for the Syrian border city of Kobani raged and prospects of an ISIS-led massacre of thousands of innocent civilians loomed this fall, the BBC interviewed the vice-chairman of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Party in Ankara.
Why hadn’t Turkey responded to NATO’s request to launch joint military operations to halt the ISIS assault on Kobani? How could Turkey just sit back and watch so many innocent civilians die, BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus asked.
The replies from Yasin Aktay are telling.
“Why is Kobani the most important problem?” he asked. “There is no tragedy in Kobani as cried out by the terrorist PKK. There is a war between two terrorist groups. You mean we should… favor one terrorist organization over another?”
The AKP deputy leader went on to explain the calculus of death as seen from Turkey’s point of view. “Less than 1000 people have been killed in Kobani, but more than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria. Which is more important?”
Aktay’s remarks reveal much more than just a callous disregard for the Kurds, who comprise roughly one-third of Turkey’s overall population, or for the popular Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which broke off peace talks with the Turkish government in October to protest Turkey’s stranglehold over the Kurds in Kobani.
According to Vice-president Joe Biden, Erdogan himself admitted that Turkey had ordered border guards to turn a blind eye as new ISIS recruits flooded across Turkey’s borders to join the battle against Assad in Syria. (Okay, when Erdogan was informed of Biden’s comments, he hit the roof and demanded that “loose-lips” Uncle Joe retract them).
In response to a Harvard University student’s question whether the U.S. could have intervened earlier in Syria, Biden went even further:
“[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks were great friends – and I have the greatest relationship with Erdogan, which I just spent a lot of time with – the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.
“Now you think I’m exaggerating – take a look. Where did all of this go? So now what’s happening? All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them. So what happened? Now all of a sudden – I don’t want to be too facetious – but they had seen the Lord. Now we have – the President’s been able to put together a coalition of our Sunni neighbors, because America can’t once again go into a Muslim nation and be seen as the aggressor – it has to be led by Sunnis to go and attack a Sunni organization.” [h/t to Mark Langfan for excerpting this Q&A from Biden’s speech]
But Erdogan’s treachery goes much deeper.
Kurdish sources tell me that the initial Turkey-al Nusra front agreement was made more than two years ago, and included Turkey’s agreement to help smuggle arms to the Syrian rebels from Benghazi and other parts of Libya.
Earlier this year, Turkish and Qatari intelligence officials met with senior ISIS leaders in Jordan to plot the take-over of Mosul and the predominantly Christian Nineveh Plain.
Also at the meeting was a representative of Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) president Massoud Barzani, who has worked closely with the Turkish government and has spearheaded massive Turkish investment in northern Iraq. Barzani apparently believed ISIS would stop their advance after seizing Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, and ordered his peshmerga fighters to withdraw rather than fight the ISIS advance.
The most dramatic events occurred in Sinjar, when 13,000 peshmerga fighters mysteriously “melted away” in August rather than confront an ISIS assault force of around 1000 men. While much of the national media focused on the plight of the Yazidis, a Shiite sect considered heretical by most Sunnis, ISIS continued to march eastward through the Nineveh plain, massacring the Christians who failed to flee.
Not until they began threatening Erbil, the capital of the KRG, did Barzani apparently realize he had been duped and called on the United States to supply heavy weapons so the peshmerga could halt the ISIS advance. As Kobani was falling, Barzani authorized Kurdish fighters from the PKK and PJAK, who had bases in northern Iraq, to transit through his territory to relieve the besieged city.
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